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by Vuyo Mapompo, Flagstaff WASP
Flagstaff in the Eastern Cape, is where one particularly witnesses the most disgusting and worst oppression of workers. Mostly in shops. The town itself is filled with independently owned shops. Most of those employers exploit the labour of the workers and subject them to inhumane working conditions.
Workers earn as little as R10 per hour while working 9 hours per day, 7 days a week without a lunchbreak. That amounts to R630 per week, but at Rana Supermarket they were paid as little as R540 per week. This is a shop that has been operating in this town for a number of years under the surveillance of the Department of Labour, who is supposed to inspect these shops regularly to ensure that the shops comply at least with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA). One could ask: What were they saying or doing all these years? Why have workers been exploited to such an extent on their watch? These are the questions we should all ask ourselves in order to understand that the workers have no one but themselves to rely on. For so many years workers could not even rely on the Department of Labour to rescue them from the oppression of their employers.
GIWUSA appealed a number of times for the Department of Labour to examine the conditions of the workers in Flagstaff since as early as 2017. During our visits to their offices in Lusikisiki we were informed that the inspectors indeed went to inspect in the whole town, but nothing changed since then.
The fights between the employers and GIWUSA in Flagstaff did not start yesterday. It has been an ongoing battle with a number of challenges for the union. What is even more stressful, and further proof that workers have no one but themselves to rely on, is the fact that even CCMA does not even respond on cases filed by GIWUSA in Flagstaff. We have cases filed as early as March and April this year for which we have received absolutely no response. Who can these workers at least rely on if even CCMA ignores their cries?
A small victory for the Rana workers
At least now the Rana workers will no longer be paid R10 per hour as before. They will now get at least R16 per hour. Starting immediately, the workers will be granted lunch, something they never got since they started working. The labour department had made a commitment to determine the exact amount the employer owes to the workers since they have been underpaid and the employer will have to pay back that money of the workers. The employer has agreed to sign a contract with the employees as permanent workers. The employer will register the workers for UIF and also provide the workers with payslips. The trade union and the employer are still in ongoing negotiations to improve the working conditions of the workers in the workplace.
We encourage all workers of the town in Flagstaff to be organised, join a trade union, and to build a workers committee that will look at all workers issues in the town and organise a campaign against all employers who continue to exploit the workers while paying them close to nothing. The workers must take power to themselves and force employers to comply with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.
Only a united force of the workers will force the Department of Labour, the CCMA, and even the municipality to do their jobs in ensuring the rights of the workers.
Workers of Flagstaff must unite for they have nothing to lose but their chains.
The Workers and Socialist Party held its National Committee in Johannesburg on 1 and 2 September. The meeting was attended by Alec Thraves on behalf of the International Executive Committee of the CWI, the revolutionary socialist international to which WASP is affiliated.
South Africa’s long history of struggle means that many of the most thinking workers across the globe follow developments closely. Alec posed questions to some of those in attendance at the meeting on issues of most interest to workers around the world.
Has the support for the new ANC President, Cyril Ramaphosa, that the media has enthusiastically termed “Ramaphoria”, been sustained? Will the ANC retain a majority in the 2019 general election?
Reply from Shaun Arendse, WASP Executive Committee
“Ramaphoria” was a very limited phenomenon. In reality it originated in the desperate hope of the capitalist class that the political and economic instability of the Zuma years could be left behind. This infected a section of the middle class and the media played along, trying to ‘talk up’ the economy, and heralding the start of a so-called ‘new dawn’ for South Africa. But ultimately, the corruption of the Zuma years was a symptom of rotten South African capitalism and not its underlying cause. On the fundamentals Ramaphosa is offering the same old neo-liberal diet. The economy remains stagnant and there have been tens of thousands of job losses since he took office.
Ramaphosa may have come to power on Valentine’s Day but there is no love, or even any real enthusiasm for him, amongst the working class – ‘Ramaphoria’ has barely touched them. Especially amongst organised workers and activists Ramaphosa is viewed as an out-and-out big business politician. His is also remembered as the ‘butcher of Marikana’, where, in 2012, as a shareholder of platinum mine Lonmin, and a senior ANC leader, he demanded the police minister identify a mineworkers’ strike as a “criminal act” and take “concomitant action”. The next day 34 mineworkers were gunned down at Marikana.
In Ramaphosa’s first months as president, parliament passed new anti-trade union legislation increasing the power of the courts and unelected commissioners over strikes and introducing restrictive picketing rules and secret strike ballots. Failure to comply can lead to trade unions being deregistered. He has not left much room for doubt that that bosses have got ‘their man’ in the job.
A general election must be called between May and August 2019. The move to replace Zuma ahead of these elections was in large part driven by the ANC leadership’s fear that they could lose their majority in this election with him at the helm. In the 2016 local government elections the ANC’s vote slid to just 54%. There is no doubt that the ANC will emerge from the 2019 elections as the biggest party but it is possible that they could lose their majority posing a coalition government. Ramaphosa has not been the guarantee against this that many ANC politicians expected.
However, the dominant trend amongst the working class and poor is to abstain in elections. The left-populist Economic Freedom Fighters has been unable to significantly increase its support and the main opposition Democratic Alliance, with its roots in the white middle class, has been embroiled in damaging factional fights reinforcing its image as a ‘white boys club’. However, there could be a certain ‘swing’ back to the ANC from a section of the black middle class alienated by this and a section of the white middle class may be willing to vote for Ramaphosa ‘the man’, if remaining unenthusiastic about his party. This, in the absence of a mass working class alternative, combined with low turnout, could see the ANC hold on to a slight majority.
There are already three major trade union federations in South Africa, COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU so isn’t the recent formation of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) just going to add further divisions?
Reply from Lebohang Phanyeko, National Organiser of SAFTU (personal capacity)
The other three Federations are led by South Africa’s labour aristocracy who are chaining the organised workers and frustrating them. These so-called workers leaders are determined to keep the status quo and SAFTU’s birth represents a new, fresh hope for organised workers.
I don’t think workers will be more divided because they will and are joining SAFTU as a new fighting, socialist Federation.
The last general strike, called by SAFTU in April, saw workers from the other trade union federations join and participate in the strike despite the opposition of their leaders.
I believe that SAFTU can gradually unite the working class in South Africa where conditions, wages and retrenchments are worsening every day.
SAFTU’s key focus must be on the 76% of workers who don’t belong to a union because the other federations just ignore them so we must urgently recruit and organise them.
For several months Cape Town has faced a water shortage crisis with severe restrictions put in place. What has been the reaction of city residents?
Reply from Rose Lichtenstein, Cape Town WASP
The water (mis)management crisis in Cape Town rightfully became a ‘common ground’ issue for all layers of the South African working class to organise around. Resistance came in all forms, some successful, others ignored.
Some communities managed to completely block any installations of the dehumanising water management devises that the government have rolled out in their thousands every week. Petitions and protests have helped in the reduction of water charges but has been ineffective so far in bringing a much needed revolutionary restructuring of the water supply system and its funding which residents identified were at the root cause of the crisis.
With dams now filling beyond expectations some wealthier residents have fallen away from the struggle but WASP has committed itself to building amongst the forces who continue to see no relief despite the rains and are continuing to build ‘crisis committees’ in their communities.
Currently we have a powerful force in the Water Crisis Coalition which was formed at the peak of the drought last January and will continue to assist in the struggle for an accessible and affordable water supply in Cape Town.
The ‘Total Shutdown’ demonstrations in August (Women’s month in South Africa) mobilised thousands of women protesting against the widespread abuse, rape, violence and murder of women across South Africa. What role did WASP play in this movement?
Reply from Phemelo Motseokae and Ferron Pedro, WASP’s women’s caucus
Women in South Africa are paying a horrendous price for living in a brutalised, violent and poverty stricken society.
Horrifically, in a country of just 57 million, one women is killed every 4 hours! Even more disturbing is the fact that 50% of these murders are committed by the women’s partners.
The South African police service has reported the grotesque statistics that a rape takes place every 36 seconds across the country and yet there is only a 4-8% conviction rate!
Our WASP’s women’s caucus wrote an article in preparation for the #TotalShutdown protests explaining our position on the issue of violence against women, relating it to the class issues in society and presenting our specific demands.
Our women cadres attended the march in Pretoria and distributed 500 pamphlets and sold-out of our magazine Izwi. The contacts we received were invited to our branch meeting where we discussed ‘The struggle against women’s oppression’.
We will be collaborating with our comrades in the General Industrial & Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA) and organising some WASP women’s meetings where issues facing women can be discussed out with a socialist alternative on offer.
How important is the ‘land question’ amongst the urban working class and does WASP support the demand of the ANC & EFF for land ‘expropriation without compensation (EWC)?
Reply from Trevor Shaku, Bloemfontein WASP
People want land mainly for residential and economic purposes. The fact that racial inequalities still persist also mean that some people want land from a historical and moralist standpoint i.e. to correct the historical injustice of land dispossession. From this angle, a huge bulk of the masses do not think we should compensate. We want land to be owned commonly by the people under the democratic management of the working class and communities.
The fact is that the majority of our people live as rentees of shacks in the backyards of smaller plots in the urban areas, so the expropriation of land will help solve this problem. However, land expropriation must go hand in hand with mass housing projects. We call for the nationalisation of the commercial farms as a step in the direction of organising production. As far as compensation is concerned, it must be conditional. Absolutely no compensation for the big landowners and corporation chiefs who have exploited us for generations but compensation should be considered on the basis of proven need for localised farmers and the smallest shareholders.
Service Delivery protests in the townships has reached its highest ever level, increasing from one protest every second day nationwide to three or four every single day! Why has there been such a dramatic increase?
Reply from Executive Mukhwevo, Ennerdale community activist
South Africa has been experiencing service delivery protests for more than 20 years, since the dawn of our ‘new era’. These struggles are centred around housing, land and the lack of social service delivery in general.
In and around the Soweto townships the protests have skyrocketed to the level of a Gauteng Provincial shutdown in 2017. This forced the government to succumb to the pressure because it was accompanied by many deaths. The citizens were demanding the presence of both spheres of government and for the national and local government representatives to answer to their demands.
In their responses, these combination of crooks just used the usual excuses which are always the obstacles to the provisions of service deliveries. And as usual they promised to the people that within 3 months most of the matters they raised would be attended to. However, to this day nothing has ever happened and not a single matter has been attended to and the service delivery struggle goes on.
After 5 years of dragging its feet, it appears that NUMSA, South Africa’s largest trade union, will be launching the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party in December. What is WASP’s approach to this development?
Reply from Sheri Hamilton, Greater Eldorado Park United Civic Movement
Our attitude towards the SRWP is that if it wants to play a role in filling the working class political vacuum then it should be open, democratic and built on the basis of a federal structure, which unfortunately is not the case at the moment. We believe that the only way we can persuade other working class formations to unite under one banner in time for the 2019 General Election is to adopt this approach.
However, there is still time over the next few months to implement the decision of Working Class Summit convened by Saftu and roll out Provincial Assemblies where a platform of minimum demands can be agreed for a new workers party.
What impact has the #Outsourcing Must Fall (#OMF) movement had since its formation?
Reply from Mametlwe Sebei, President of GIWUSA (Personal capacity)
#OMF mobilised thousands of outsourced workers across the country in the struggle to end their precarious work and poverty wages. The campaign was initiated by WASP because none of the trade unions were taking up fight against outsourcing.
The campaign organised workers into shop floor committees that coordinated workers across different sectors such as cleaners, secretaries, electricians, security guards etc on a city wide basis.
In Tshwane, where the campaign started, it won massive victories including at the University of Pretoria where workers who were previously outsourced and employed on short-term contracts and poverty pay of R2,500 were insourced with permanent contracts, increased benefits and a 300% wage increase over 3 years!
#OMF, by winning over workers previously unorganised, has contributed to revitalising the organised labour movement. Thousands of new members have joined GIWUSA and the new left trade union federation SAFTU to which the campaign is now affiliated.